Rudey's Room

Cooking Dinner Every Night: Is It Always an Epic Fail?

 

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

– Julia Child

 

Disclaimer: This post is therapy for me, so if you have suggestions, please, pretty please, add them in the comments.

I’m struggling with weeknight dinners. During the week, I fail at dinner.

It’s not that I fail to plan. I have a recipe binder. I pull it out most weekends and set aside a recipe for the week.

I buy the ingredients and stock them in the fridge.

But at game time, I fail.

What’s for dinner?

At 5 o’clock, I’m spent from teaching seven classes and a 1.5-hour drive. (If we beeline home from school, it’s 4:45. If we kick it at the park, it’s pushing 6).

Once home, we get situated – hugs, coats away, backpacks unloaded. Often, the girls head to the fridge – Mommy, I’m hungry. They’re chomping at the bit, so instead of saying, the kitchen is closed, I shoo them off with yogurts to watch an episode of Austin & Ally or Sophie the First.

Then I stand in the kitchen decompressing – opening mail, re-organizing our school bags, and mindlessly eating a bag of Pirates Booty while staring at the t.v.

What’s for dinner?

The thought of preparing what seems like a 30-minute meal stresses me out, so I fall into the rut and break out quesadillas, pasta, or some hodgepodge from the fridge. There’s always a fruit and a vegetable on their plates – even if they are raw. So that’s a win.

What’s for dinner? overwhelms me.

V is allergic to eggs and nuts, so that eliminates omelets for brinner. I am a semi-vegetarian. Yes I eat fish, but rarely meat. S, my youngest, is in a mac ‘n cheese phase. She’ll pound Niçoise olives, but turns her nose up at pizza. Go figure! I’m picky too.

What’s for dinner? It’s looking like quesadillas … again.

And I feel like a failure.

Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Likely. I tend to do that. I have a streak of perfectionistism. But with summer break approaching, now is the time to set up new routines. Here’s where I am at, and I’d love to hear from you:

  • Cook Double What’s Needed. Unintentionally, we do freeze weekend lasagnas, stews, and crockpot classics. I’d like to plan more of this. Once we land on a winner, I’d like to whip up two or three portions. It’s easy to separate the leftovers into containers and freeze. This way I can pull a dish out of the freezer in the a.m., pop it in the oven/on the stove at dinnertime and presto, one meal down!
  • Weekend Homework. My goal is to prep ingredients on the weekend – even if it’s only 15 minutes. This is a minimal time commitment for a substantial health and flavor payoff. A stitch in time gives me a jump-start on ingredients I would like to cook with but am overwhelmed by when it’s game time. This simply requires assembling ingredients into zip-lock baggies and containers in the fridge. My husband currently grills a surplus of meat on the weekends, and that’s already a helping hand for weeknight meals.
  • Embrace the Crockpot. I’d like to cook one meal using the slow cooker each weekend. The prep is generally fifteen minutes, so it’s a no-brainer for me. Then I’ll put half in the fridge for a fast weeknight dinner and freeze the other half. I’ve done this three times in the past weeks, and it’s working. Although, I do find the slow cooker recipes to be hit or miss. What’s your top-rated slow cooker recipe?
  • Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. A repertoire of quick and nutritious recipes is key. It will take time to figure it out, so I plan to make a note of which recipes my family liked best and which ones made it to the table with the most ease for me. Then I’ll add these into my regular monthly rotation. I also want the girls input, so my husband suggested putting cookbooks geared for kids and weeknight dinners on the couch and letting the girls pick out what they want to try.

In asking friends and considering the girls’ flavor preferences (and pushing their palates), I came up with three weeks of meals below. It makes sense to me to decide on a protein that serves double (or triple) duty, so that’s what I did.

Week 1 – Rotisserie chicken

  • Day 1: Baked Penne. I will toss in extra vegetables, such as thinly sliced zucchini and spinach. I’ll section off a portion sans meat for me.
  • Day 2: Chicken and Guacamole Tostadas. I will use a hybrid of this recipe, letting the girls choose their toppings.
  • Day 3: Crockpot Tortilla Soup – unfreeze – add in chicken. Use toppings from Day 2.

Week 2 – Hamburger meat

  • Day 1: Cheeseburgers on pretzel buns with zucchini oven chips. My husband will grill the burgers on the weekend, and I will pull out a frozen veggie burger.
  • Day 2: Pasta with hamburger meat (crumbled from a burger), shallot, peppers, basil, spinach, left-over pasta sauce, Parmesan and little Mozzarella balls.
  • Day 3: Crockpot vegetarian chili – unfreeze – with grilled cheese (ham, spinach) sandwiches.

Week 3 – Fish

I’m hoping this gives me better plan (most of the time).

But bottomline: Keep calm and carry on, to whatever Plan B may be. And if it’s cheese quesadillas two days in a row, so be it.

What do you typically cook? Do you have a weekly menu? What are your dinnertime shortcuts? Please post.

Ciao for now.

4 Responses to “Cooking Dinner Every Night: Is It Always an Epic Fail?”

  1. Joan Radue

    “Fail to plan, you plan to fail”. My battle cry through life (in most cases). However, when it came to weekday dinner planning I failed too! So, maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Picky eaters can be ‘broken’ or ‘accepted’ & I personally hated (& still do hate ) mealtime fights. I think you have a great plan in the making. Letting the girls get involved could be a two-fold experience……they can choose foods they like, and maybe learn to be the weekday meal planners we are not! Individual pizzas made on taco shells can be a fun way to get S to eventually eat pizza. Maybe she prefers a white sauce w/chic & olives on top……..the sauce can be frozen in ice cube trays (serving size portions) & tossed in a zip lock bag. too. Good luck! Don’t beat yourself up over this. There are many out there with the same issue. Rise to the challenge and make it a “new” habit – you can do it!

    Reply
  2. Heather

    Late to the party here, but I have recently started actually cooking a slew of vegetables on the weekend. Roast squashes, sweet potatoes, fennel (my personal fav). Blanche asparagus, green beans, broccoli (keep all those al dente…they will finish cooking when you heat them up) and a different green (spinach, kale etc.). I also cook up a pot of grains, lentils, and/or beans. Saute some mushrooms. Whatever looks good at the supermarket!

    You can then repurpose these through the week. For the vegetables, you can eat them as is for a side dish, simply dressing them with a bit of oil and salt if you eat them cold (I don’t mind broccoli and green beans cold) or saute them with a bit of oil and different spices or herbs to heat them up (changing up the seasoning can make them seem like a new side dish). Making soup becomes quick work if you already have the vegetables and broth done. (And becomes even heartier if you’ve already prepped beans, grains or lentils). You can combine vegetables and grains with a tasty dressing dressing. I think a dinner simply of beans and rice and a vegetable is perfectly respectable! Beans can easily go with tacos, be cooked with sausage as a quick cassoulet etc. Rice can be made into fried rice with all the cooked vegetables. Etc. You get the idea 🙂

    I’m like you – a long day at work followed by a two hour commute. The most annoying part of weeknight cooking is the time taken up by chopping and prepping vegetables. It that is already done, then I find I can get dinner on the table a lot more quickly. I also find that it forces me to become more creative and less reliant on recipes. Mind you, I don’t have two little ones nagging at me for dinner!

    And, sometimes I’ve overestimated what we can eat. Whatever is left at the end of the week gets made into soup and frozen 🙂

    Reply

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